By Dena O'DellJuly 20, 2018
SAN PEDRO, CALIFORNIA - After three years as the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, Col. Kirk Gibbs relinquished duties to Col. Aaron Barta during a July 19 change of command ceremony.
Barta, a native of Texas, became the 62nd commander of the LA District, during the event at Fort MacArthur's Community Center in San Pedro.
Barta previously served as the battalion commander for the U.S. Army in Europe's Battalion Headquarters at Wiesbaden, Germany, and as the U.S. European Command's deputy division chief for engineering and logistics strategy at Stuttgart, Germany.
He will now oversee a multimillion-dollar program that provides engineering, construction, planning, contracting, real estate, emergency operations, environmental and regulatory services to military, federal, state and local governments across a 226,000-square-mile area of Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Brig. Gen. Pete Helmlinger, South Pacific Division commander, hosted the event.
Barta said since he found out he would be taking command of the LA District, other engineer leaders have made sure he knew how lucky he was to take command of such a renowned District, which they referred to as "The Mighty LA District" or "the legendary LA District."
"They made sure I was aware of the district's long history, its great reputation for delivering important projects, and that I was walking into an organization full of experienced engineers and leaders," Barta said, "and the District's large number of constituents and civilian-elected officials that were friends and advocates of the Corps."
His goal as the commander of the District, he said, is to continue to sustain and grow the outstanding relationships already in place between the Corps, civilian leaders, representatives and its stakeholders.
Gibbs will now serve as the chief of staff at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
During the ceremony, Gibbs talked about relationships and the resiliency of people. He thanked the Corps' many local, state and federal partners, as well as the Corps' military, agency and tribal partners. He also thanked the Corps' District, regional and national leadership and his family for their support.
"As an officer, the privilege of command is like no other. Until this job, I called command a privilege because every officer seems to do that or maybe we are supposed to say that," Gibbs said. "Now I see the word 'privilege' in an entirely different light.
"Defined as an advantage or a benefit, this job has been that for me. I will just say that I am a better person, leader and even an engineer for having interacted with the people of this District on a daily basis. I am leaving a family today."
Gibbs said he didn't talk about specific projects during his speech because the District has accomplished phenomenal things since he's been here.
"On a day like today, it isn't about the projects; we focus on those every single day," he said. "Today is about the people of this District. On July 31, 2015, I committed to give you my very best, If I kept no other commitments, I kept that one. I will miss each one of you greatly. Thank you all for the best three years of my career."
Helmlinger applauded both Barta and Gibbs' leadership.
Under Gibbs' command, the LA District executed more than $3 billion in engineering and construction in support of its military, local, state and federal partners, Helmlinger said.
He also noted that under Gibbs' command, 30 percent of the District's workforce deployed in support of disaster and emergency response, including assisting communities effected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the Southern and Northern California wildfires.
"In addition to delivering programs, Kirk has clearly taken care of people," Helmlinger said, touting the fact the LA District has been recognized as a "Best Place to Work" for the past two years, as well as many other accomplishments in tribal relations, STEM and small business partnerships.
"Those of you who know Kirk, know he is a humble servant leader," Helmlinger said. "He would be the first to tell you he didn't do this alone. It was the team, the great people and partners of the LA District."
Helmlinger said Barta is well qualified to lead the LA District. As a recent graduate of the Army War College, Barta is a proven leader at every level from platoon through battalion command, he said. Additionally, he holds an engineering degree from West Point and a Master's Degree in engineer management.
"Aaron possesses the right blend of technical skills, leadership and experience that are the hallmark of the U.S. Army engineer regiment," Helmlinger said. "I am confident he will lead the LA team to new heights."
The change of command ceremony is a time-honored tradition, which signifies the transfer of responsibility from one commander to the next one.
ABOUT THE LA DISTRICT
Established in 1898, the LA District provides support to major civil works projects in California, Nevada Arizona and Utah. Some of those projects include the Tropicana-Flamingo Wash and the Santa Ana River Mainstem projects and operation and maintenance of 16 dams, 14 navigation projects, 13 miles of breakwater and 54 miles of flood-control channels.
Ecosystem restoration projects also form a major part of the LA District's workload and include the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project in California, and the Rio Salado and Tres Rios projects in Arizona, which are focused on water-quality improvements and recreational opportunities.
Military missions at 11 installations in California, Arizona and Nevada include a hospital at Fort Irwin and F-35 facilities at Nellis and Luke Air Force bases.
The District also provides engineering design and construction support to agencies like the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, the LA District provides disaster and emergency response, most recently supporting a debris removal mission in Santa Barbara, home relocation services for residents in Texas following Hurricane Harvey and power restoration services in Puerto Rico.